Your pituitary gland is the conductor of your endocrine system, signaling to other glands that they should increase or slow down the production of hormones. In many cases, it produces hormones for those other glands, and sometimes it gets its signals crossed – often because of a pituitary tumor.
The pituitary is no larger than a pea, sitting at the base of the brain, but with its many functions, identifying a problem calls for experienced specialists. Our endocrinologists are experts at understanding the complex connections and balances of the gland. These specialists are here to help diagnose problems you may be experiencing, and, if needed, put you on the right track to treatment.
The Pituitary’s Many Jobs
The pituitary gland communicates with the entire endocrine system, producing hormones that:
- Stimulate the adrenal glands and its many functions
- Stimulate the thyroid (gland that controls metabolism)
- Control the growth of bones and tissues
- Control sexual function
- Influence female breasts and their milk production
- Regulate water loss by the kidneys
With so many diverse functions, it’s not surprising that problems with the pituitary gland can create a wide range of symptoms, such as:
- Enlarged hands and feet
- Erectile dysfunction
- Joint pain
- Loss of vision
- Loss or increase in body hair
- Weight gain or loss
Diagnosis & Treatment
To diagnose the problem, your endocrinologist will likely perform a simple blood or urine test to assess hormone levels. Depending on specific symptoms, an imaging test of the brain – like a CT or MRI may be recommended
When the pituitary stops sending signals to other glands to produce hormones, treatment almost always involves replacing those hormones with medication, or hormone replacement therapy (HRT). The most common types of these therapies include:
- Cortisol replacement if the adrenal gland isn’t producing cortisol on its own. The body needs this hormone for a variety functions, most importantly to help manage our stress.
- Thyroid hormone replacement for hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid gland), when the thyroid does not produce enough hormones and slows metabolism.
- Testosterone or estrogen replacement to treat a sex hormone deficiency.
- Growth hormone to stimulate height and the growth of muscles and organs. Children with too little growth hormone need to supplement it so their bodies will reach their full potential. Adults also are prescribed growth hormone for muscle and organ development, but it won’t help them grow taller.
The most frequent type of pituitary disorder is a pituitary gland tumor, which is fairly common in adults. They are not brain tumors and are almost always benign (not cancerous).
There are two types of tumors—secretory and non-secretory. Secretory tumors produce too much of a hormone normally made by the pituitary, and non-secretory tumors do not. Both types of tumors can cause problems if they are large and interfere with normal function of the pituitary gland and/or other structures in the brain.
If you’re diagnosed with a pituitary tumor, your doctor will help you find the right treatment, which depends on the type and size of the tumor, the symptoms it is causing and your age and overall health. Some tumors can be treated with medication alone or monitored over time for any changes. Other types of tumors might require surgery, or a combination of treatments, including radiation therapy.